UPDATE 2012Q4: Articles, Blogs, Notes, etc.

Monday, December 31:

Happy New Year!!

Another quarter has come to an end. The next quarter is at UPDATE 2013Q1.

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Saturday, December 29:

EMS helicopter crashes, one nurse injured. While diverting to the airport at Big Lake, TX the Bell 407 lost engine power and crashed at around 11:48AM. The helicopter, operated by Med-Trans Corporation, was carrying a patient from Fort Stockton to San Angelo. Just prior to the loss of engine power, an odd odor was noticed in the cabin. The force of impact caused the main rotor to slice through the tailboom. [link to NTSB preliminary] * [link to local news article]

Arizona family of three dead after Lancair crash. A Phoenix businessman, his wife, their 19-yr-old daughter and the family dog were killed in a crash east of Sand Diego. The amateur-built Lancair IV had departed Montgomery Field around 10:00AM. This particular aircraft design is very high performance, but also has a notably high incidence of serious accidents. [link to local news video] * [link to FoxNews article]

Friday, December 21:Photo Gallery: A Drone Pilot's Hardship

Dreams in Infrared: The Woes of an American Drone Operator. This is a chilling article about the use of drones to clinically destroy the enemy. Young American soldiers sit in front of display panels, watch targets, and align missiles with lasers. Sometimes, an innocent civilian walks into the frame. Other times they sit as witnesses to military communications breakdowns, and see their fellow soldiers die. All while thousands of miles away, in a chair in a box filled with electronics, and minutes away from lunch at Burger King.

This article is not presented as some pacifist rant; it is presented by a father and a member of humanity, asking others to please read it and think about where we are going with drone technologies. [link to article]

DoT Inspector General to audit ATC staffing. Since 2000, controller staffing has increased slightly, while airport operations are down 23%. An audit is to begin in January, to see how well FAA is meeting goals for productivity and cost-efficiency. [link to article] * [link to DoT-IG memo to AAE-1]

Tuesday, December 18:

Lt. Tim Scott said the crash site is on the side of the mountain, south of North Peak. He said it is not visible from the road because it is behind a ridge.Cargo Flight crashes near Payson, AZ. The sole pilot of an Ameriflight  PA31 was killed after impacting the Mazatzal Mountains in the dark, around 6:25PM. He was 28, from Mesa, and was diverting to Phoenix due to poor flight conditions. [link to A-SN.wiki post] * [link to local news article]

Congressman drafts Drone Privacy legislation. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has drafted the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act (DAPTA), a bill that would require FAA to consider privacy issues related to drones. It would also require drone operators to disclose the kinds of data they plan to collect and how they plan to use it. [link to bill text] * [link to 8-1-12 article] * [link to 12-18-12 article]

Friday, December 14:

Air Cargo Slowdown Puts Squeeze on Specialist Carriers. A sluggish economy has cargo flights operating with only 42% of cargo capacity being utilized. Consolidations of cargo-only airlines are anticipated. Given the high carbon cost of air freight, this down-scaling would be seen as positive for climate change and the environment. [link to 12-14-12 article]

Official Secrets by the Petabytes. In the wake of security leaks, President Obama ordered a report by a Public Interest Declassification Board. The report urged far more transparency and a thorough shake-up of the bureaucratic inertia that favors overclassification. It further concludes that the current system of classifying and declassifying secrets is so dysfunctional and “risk-averse” that democracy suffers in its need for timely information about the workings of government. “At its most benign, secrecy impedes informed government decisions and an informed public; at worst, it enables corruption and malfeasance,” the board reminded the president. [link to the report] * [link to NYTimes OpEd]

Wednesday, December 12:

FAA says ‘NO’ to more rest for Cargo Pilots. After the Colgan/Buffalo crash, the concerns about commercial pilot fatigue were so great that Congress intensified pressures on FAA for new fatigue rules. FAA bucked those pressures in December 2011 with fatigue rules (to begin in early 2014) that applied to passenger pilots, but not to cargo-only operators (think UPS, FedEx and their feeders). Legal action followed, out of which FAA ‘discovered’ errors in their earlier calculations. Now, FAA has again confirmed their belief that the ‘benefits’ of more rested cargo pilots do not exceed the ‘costs’ to the companies (or the cost of a few cargo pilot fatalities). It is notable that the work of cargo pilots is frequently done in the dead of night. [link to rule posted at gpo.gov] * [link to 4-23-12 related article]

Tuesday, December 11:

Airlines want ticket taxes reduced and simplified. The recent push by Airlines for America (A4A) toward a new national airline policy continues. This news article out of Seattle states that airlines want fewer taxes, less regulation and stabilized energy prices. It also says FAA and airports see the present taxes as essential. A spokesman for Sea-Tac said airport authorities need to be part of the discussion on rationalizing taxes, that there should be a national aviation policy, not just one for the airlines. [link to article]

Monday, December 10:

Pilot and two nurses dead after Rockford, IL medical helicopter crash. The helicopter impacted a cornfield at around 8:30PM. Reports indicate the helicopter was enroute to pick up a patient to transfer from one hospital to another. A nearby airport was reporting light snow flurries. [link to news story]

Sunday, December 9:

Charter crash in Mexico kills seven, including Jenni Rivera. A Learjet 25 cruising north at FL280 after an evening concert in Monterey, Mexico suddenly entered a steep descent and crashed into terrain at 9,000′ elevation. Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera and four others were on the charter flight. The learjet was 43-years old. [link to A-S.net.wiki post] * [link to Reuters news article]

Saturday, December 8:

Article imageDrones Come Home, to U.S. Privacy Activists’ Dismay.
From the article… “Better known as drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles piloted by military in the U.S. hunt and kill suspected enemy combatants abroad. Now the drones are coming home to beef up local law enforcement. But people across the U.S. are pushing back, contending that domestic drones could invade personal privacy or chill free speech by monitoring political activities….” [Link to article]

Wednesday, December 5:

Congressman vows to continue fight to control helicopter noise. New Congressman Adam Schiff from Burbank, CA vows to continue the fight for legislation to regulate low-flying helicopters in the LA Basin. He continues the work begun by his predecessor, Howard Berman. [link to article] * [link to 8-6-12 article]

EPA names new director at OTAQ. Chris Grundler will head the Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) in DC. The OTAQ Mission includes reducing greenhouse gases and pollutants, from all mobile sources, including aviation.[link to OTAQ webpage] * [link to theHill.com article]

FAA approves Paine Field (Everett, WA) for commercial flights. Allegiant and Alaska have expressed an interest in beginning service, but the airport has no terminal facilities. It will likely be years before AIP funds may be awarded and spent, to enable the start of service. Airport neighbors have opposed commercial service for decades. In 2011, the airport had 113,000 operations (takeoffs & landings), of which roughly 90% were general aviation. It is not clear how the start of airline service at Everett will impact Bellingham. [link to Seattle Times article]

Monday, December 3:

BA Head Willie Walsh Expresses Doubts that Heathrow will Build Third Runway. One of the busiest airports in the World, with 480,000 landings and takeoffs annually, London Heathrow airport’s proposed expansion appears to be dimming. This is a simple airport layout, with two parallel runways, operating at close to full capacity. Its proximity to residential areas makes this project the Mother of all impactful airport expansion proposals. Although FAA has no direct say in this matter, aiREFORM is posting this news item to encourage a view into matters elsewhere in the world, which can be very educational. [Expansion of Heathrow Airport (wiki)] * [AirportWatch.org.uk article]

Trans-polar flights may need to end, to slow Arctic ice melt. After last summer’s record ice melt, researchers fear the ice might melt completely in the next few decades, and the open water will further accelerate heating of the planet surface. Aviation is the largest source of Arctic air pollutants. New air routes that skirt outside a designated polar region might be considered. [link to NYTimes blog post]

Senate Democrats push climate change amendment. More evidence of the partisan divide on the carbon issue. [link to TheHill article]

Saturday, December 1:

MSPB grants OSC stay request related to Whistleblower Gag Orders. FAA has frequently imposed gag orders on its employees. The process is simple:

    • first, FAA takes something of value away from the employee (such as their job);
    • then, FAA offers it back in a settlement that also compels silence by the Whistleblower.

Most Whistleblowers have families to support and bills to pay, so they often feel they have no choice but to accept. Not very fair. Here, OSC has obtained MSPB support on a Dept. of Commerce case, that has implications for reforming the federal Whistleblower protections that have been broken for decades. David Pardo at MSPBWatch.org has compiled an excellent summary, including links to some background. [link to post at MSPBWatch.org]

Friday, November 30:

Rep. McKinley of WV submits a House Continuing Resolution expressing Congressional opposition to any carbon taxes. [link to text as submitted] On the other hand, Reagan Economic Advisor Arthur Laffer and other conservative economists agree with the idea of a carbon tax. [link to CarbonTax.org]

FAA and OSHA announce workplace protections plan for flight attendants. FAA asserted in 1975 that it has exclusive jurisdiction over flight cabin air quality and similar workplace health issues. A petition to FAA in 1990 asked for compliance with OSHA standards; FAA rejected the petition with a one-page letter in 1997. The back-and-forth continued. Now, 37-years after FAA insisted on jurisdiction over in-flight workplace conditions, a plan is proposed to let OSHA be in charge. The plan was ordered by Congress last February, with the signing of Public Law 112-95, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. [link to Bloomberg/BusinessWeek article] * [link to AFA webpage about the 37-year history of this issue] * [link to copy of Public Law 112-95]

Tuesday, November 27:

President Obama signs Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). Many FAA employee whistleblowers have endured countless stories of retaliation, without effective support from MSPB and OSC (Office of Special Counsel). This legislation is aimed primarily at OSC, whose employees are granted more empowers to pursue rogue managers who commit Prohibited Personnel Practices (PPP’s), such as retaliation for whistleblowing. WPEA becomes fully effective on 12/27/12. [link to OSC news release]

President Obama also signs bill exempting airlines from EU Carbon Plan. 

[link to grist.org article]

[link to post by Anirvan Chatterjee]

[link to article with comments by EU’s Connie Hedegaard]

Monday, November 26:

Victims Identified in Fatal Plane Crash, SE of Albany, OR. Witness reports indicate the aircraft was turning when half of the wing fell off. The aircraft was an RV-6, built in 1996. Investigators believe the two local men, both pilots, had departed from the Lebanon airport. [link to article] * [link to NTSB Preliminary Report]

Tuesday, November 20:

DoT Inspector General releases Audit Report on Costs and Safety at Contract Control Towers. The report is predictably ‘positive’ and supports continued FAA funding of roughly 250 contract towers. The Report claims sizable cost savings ($537,000/year for contract towers, vs. $2.03M/year for FAA towers), due largely to much lower personnel counts (6.03 controllers/tower vs. 16.23 controllers/tower). Appropriately, these figures are based on comparable low-activity towers. The Report also claims lower error rates at contract towers. Frankly, some would suggest the Report identifies exceptional waste at FAA towers. There is much to be discussed about this Report, and aiREFORM.com will soon present an analysis. In the meantime, here are some current links: [link to CNN article; by Mike Ahlers] * [link to DoT-IG summary] * [link to PDF of the Report]

Southwest to end Reno-Oakland flights next June. Airline officials say they have averaged 55% of seats filled. Short-hauls are becoming increasingly unprofitable. [link to Reno Gazette-Journal article]

Monday, November 19:

Drone used to video pigeon-shoot shot down Shotdrone_3 near Pennsylvania gun club. Aerial drone technology is emerging and will eventually require FAA regulatory actions that will need to address privacy and noise impacts. If future air regulations are fully conceived by FAA, they may include higher minimum operating altitudes for helicopters and small manned aircraft, reducing their impacts. [link to sUASnews article; by Matthew Schroyer]. See also this related article, on the use of drones for environmental research and monitoring [link to Austin statesman.com article; by Asher Price]

Thursday, November 15:

ICAO welcomes recent EU Carbon decision. ICAO has agreed to set up a committee to work through the issues. [link to Chicago Tribune article by Allison Martell (reuters)]

Delta is making profits by flying older jets. Interesting WSJ article about how Delta is saving money by snatching up older aircraft from other airlines, thus pays more for fuel but saves money overall with lower ownership costs. They recently acquired 49 MD90’s from China Southern Airlines, and 88 B717’s from Southwest/AirTran. Those airlines were upgrading to more fuel-efficient fleets. The article also discusses Delta’s 2005 bankruptcy, in which they were able to terminate a major pension plan (which was then taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, PBGC). Then, shortly after emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, Delta bought up Northwest (who also had just gone through the bankruptcy/PBGC routine). Not a pretty picture. This news item is posted to focus on the willingness of some airlines to  consume excessive fuel; however, the PBGC angle is a worthwhile Google search. [link to WSJ article]

Wednesday, November 14:

Congress passes S.743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. This legislation had been delayed for years and it looked as though it was dead for this year. Now, with the election results, we are all shocked/surprised (and, yes, HAPPY!) to see that perhaps Congress has decided to end their impasse ways, and start cooperating with each other to pass meaningful legislation. The legislation now awaits an expected signature by President Obama. The important point of WPEA is that it extends the powers of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) which, hopefully, will now be better able to nudge FAA and other agencies to clean up their deeply established whistleblower retaliation  problems. [link to WhistleWatch.org posting]

Small plane crashes after Jackson, MS takeoff. Three pilots flying a Piper PA32 on a 25-mile trip to attend an FAA safety conference crashed into a house just after takeoff. They were all killed by the impact and fire. An inhabitant of the house suffered slight injuries. [link to NBCNews.com article]


Tuesday, November 13:

Aviation and Climate Change: Flying Blind. A hearing happened on November 1st, in a Federal court in DC. EarthJustice filed against EPA, seeking EPA regulation of aviation-generated CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Here is some background. [link to climatesciencewatch.org posting]

House passes EU Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. Senate Bill 1956 bars U.S. air carriers from paying carbon taxes proposed for flights into and out of the European Union. It now awaits a signature by the President. [link to Bloomberg.com article] * [link to S.1956 legislative digest, at gop.gov]

Monday, November 12:

EU puts Airline Emissions on hold for a year. Carbon taxes for airlines, under attack by the U.S. Congress, will not be applied until at least 2014. [link to Chicago Tribune article by Barbara Lewis]

Thursday, November 8:

FAA to release ATSAP and other safety data for use by NTSB. As part of the formal agreement, NTSB has to make written requests and agrees not to publicly disclose the shared data. [link to FAA press release]

Monday, November 5:

NTSB approves Probable Cause for 7/31/12 ATC errors at KDCA. The incident involved botched coordination between the Reagan National tower cab and the Potomac TRACON. The Tower Supervisor was busy and allowed a TMC to answer a call from the TRACON Supervisor. A Runway number was not heard in the conversation, and the TMC failed to coordinate stopping northbound departures after she had just approved southbound arrivals to the same runway. [link to NTSB Probable Cause] * [link to NTSB Full Narrative OPS12IA849] * [8/2/12 Grizzle memo to Huerta]

Saturday, November 3:

Two officers killed when Atlanta Police Helicopter crashes. They were flying low at nighttime to search for an alleged runaway 9-yr-old boy. Nobody on the ground was hurt. The boy was found a couple hours later, wandering in the street. [link to HuffPo article]

Saturday, October 20:

NE China to set up two drone bases for Marine Surveillance. Citing low costs and efficiency, to monitor illegal land uses and aid in emergency responses. [link to CCTV.com article]

Wednesday, October 10:

Neighbors get few answers at KBLI Master Plan event. Roughly 50 citizens attended at the Squalicum Boathouse in Bellingham, WA. Airport expansion is funded by FAA, including a $500K Master Plan process. A new airline, Allegiant, flies older, noisier aircraft types, intensifying the local noise impact. [link to KBLI Master Plan Updates] * [link to article at BellinghamHerald.com] * [link to MP diagram showing commercial service to KBLI] * [link to WhatcomWatch Online Sep-2012 post]